I am a homosexual and an atheist. I’m also white and male. Does that mean I have had the power and privilege to be who I am in my life, things that put me at odds with those in power?
Atheists are immoral, sad, angry at God, and don’t believe in anything. Homosexuals are deviants, child molesters, and they caused AIDs. Whites are inherently racist as they occupy a cultural position of power in such a way that only they can be racist. Males have forever denigrated, objectified, enslaved, and raped the fairer sex (did I just say that?).
Yet, I have done none of these things. I have nothing to apologize for in terms of my lack of color, or my genitalia. I have nothing to apologize for because I am an individual. I am not solely a homosexual, I am not solely an atheist, and it doesn’t matter if I’m white or male. I am an individual whose approach and choices have shaped me into a complex human creature.
I have been told I’m immoral. I have been told that all the problems in my life are because I’m gay and godless. I have been marginalized by my straight counterparts feigning homosexual behavior and laughing, or sometimes worse homosexuals feigning homosexual behavior and laughing. My role models were the bad guys in movies that for some reason had homosexual trappings. I was led to believe a straight-acting homosexual was the higher road. Higher road of what? Hypocritical acceptance?
I know of individuals cast out from their families forever for what they are, who have been jumped and beaten for what they are, who have been denounced from pulpits and shamed so bad they don’t know what they are, and I know of individuals who’ve even been killed, sometimes by their own hands.
You did not choose to be Native American, Hispanic, Black, or Asian. I didn’t choose to be white. You do have a choice though. The same choice I faced.
You could choose to be mad, to be angry at those who have oppressed you, who have oppressed your heritage. You could choose to be offended by misrepresentations and to stand up for your cultural group identity in their denouncement. You could choose to try and take back everything that’s rightfully your group’s, your nation’s, ultimately your identity. You could choose to try to tell other people what they’re allowed to do.
You could choose to hate yourself. You could choose to hate everything you are because somehow you are inferior. You will never be powerful, you will never be understood, and you will always be oppressed and afraid; afraid of the fear, hatred, and lack of understanding of your fellow human beings. You could want to be normal, you could want to be free, and you could hate what you can’t escape. You could choose to put that power in people who don’t even care what they’re doing.
I said I was an individualist. I haven’t always been. I have made these choices before. The conclusion I finally reached after all that anger and suffering, was that these choices made my life miserable. Although I was a unique child, I didn’t become a full individualist until I made a very special choice.
I look around me and see all these people ‘hurt’. They’re ‘hurt’ by stereotypes, by Halloween costumes, by other people pretending to be them. They are ‘hurt’ when others take on to themselves their identities. They are ‘hurt’ when people in power give no heed to their club, their tribe, their identity, who they are. I was ‘hurt’ too. When people told me how wrong my life was, it ‘hurt’ me. It shamed me, it told me how small my life was. When I was called a faggot on the street, or a pedophile because I was gay, it ‘hurt’.
This is my effort to frame the pain caused by cultural appropriation through analogy. In this way, people are very similar. The woman who wears a sexy ‘Indian’ outfit on Halloween, the Nehru jacket-wearing frat boys, the absolutely white teenagers drawing manga, the Asian opera singers singing in Italian, these all ‘hurt’ those who are those things. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. It causes them the very pain I have felt myself about my oppressors.
I did not choose to be what I am, but I did choose to embrace it given the alternative life of sorrow and self-denial. When I embraced what I was, I did it for myself; not for my parents, or my German-Russian Jewish heritage, nor for the bigots or swastikas. I did it because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. The only one that was causing me pain was me. I wanted to be who I was, and if others couldn’t understand then all I can hope for is that they’ll come to understand someday.
The only way that can happen is through education.
When I’ve been in group therapy before, or when I’ve been in the hospital, I have run into individuals who wanted to say things about my homosexuality, they wanted to say things about my atheism, but they wouldn’t say them. I told them, go ahead, say them, I don’t care. Whether they said them or not didn’t affect me. I didn’t ‘hurt’ anymore, and I didn’t want to ‘hurt’ anymore. I told one woman that it’s okay if it’s a bad thing to be gay. She didn’t know what to say.
I’ve known friends who find out I’m an atheist and tell me that I just have to remember that someone is watching out over me. I could tell them, no there isn’t; how dare they faith-shame me or marginalize my beliefs! Or, I could tell them that saying that to me is like me telling them the opposite, and then, go on with my life.
When someone tells me that homosexuality is bad, or wrong, my only response is: why? I sincerely ask them why. No anger, no ‘hurt’, because, in the end, I have not given them any power over my being. Then, they tell me any number of things and theories, and I patiently explain why I disagree. People are shocked.
When someone tells me that atheism is bad, or wrong, my only response is: why? I sincerely ask them why. No anger, no ‘hurt’, because, in the end, I have not given them any power over my being. Then, I patiently explain the virtues and principles to which I adhere in my daily life if they’re willing to listen. I don’t understand why, but people are surprised by this.
When some random ‘important’ person says atheists don’t live in fox holes, or that atheists aren’t Americans, or that gays recruit your children, or that all gays are liberals, I don’t write letters to them telling them how wrong they are because they probably don’t care how wrong they are. They don’t care any more than I care about how right I am.
In the field of expression, in that world out their mired with new-age positivism and Hitler worship, there is only one thing you can control: you. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind if you only act on being ‘hurt’. You’ll only assert your own pain. Instead, you can make that choice, you can choose to not be so insecure in your own identity that you give all your power of acceptance away to those who obviously don’t even care about you. You can choose to not cause yourself pain. If it’s appropriate, educate, don’t shame. Don’t tell others what they can or can’t do because you feel bad. You’re only that special to yourself.
Instead, feel good that you are who you are, and that you have inherited what you’ve inherited, for yourself. Feel wonderful that you get to be and to grow from hardship, from oppression, from fear. That you get to be, as Gandhi put it, the difference you wish to see in the world. That you have chosen to have a voice for those too afraid to speak, too in pain to speak, and too dead to speak. That you have chosen to make things better, not worse. That you have chosen to not ‘hurt’ anymore.